This is the fourth installment in the series. The previous article is here.
I woke up late Monday Morning, nursing the remnants of a chest cold. After drowning it with a couple of cups of coffee, I showered and threw my gear on for the 90-mile ride to work. Bopping out the door and into the garage, the Breva 1200 waited, and I was ready to put my regular commute to the test, comparing this ride to my Ducati ST2, and other days when I take the ’72 Eldorado.
The cavernous tank of the Breva had served me well, but after 200 miles of weekend jaunts it was on fumes. I hopped over to the Mobile station across the street and stuck some gas in it, cursing that I had forgotten the mileage so I wasn’t able to get an exact MPG value — I’ll do this later I promise.
Off to do battle with the cagers on my Northridge-to-Santa Barbara-run. First leg of the journey is up Reseda Boulevard to the 118 freeway. The traffic is backed up and I split lanes between the parked cars for a ways, but the wide stance of the bar/mirrors combined with not-quite-completely-caffienated drivers not paying attention got me thinking that taking it easy might be wise until I’m more at home with this bike. After a few weeks with it, I estimate that the width of the Breva would be in lockstep with my “space”, and this would no longer be an issue. Funny how the pulled back bars of my Duc give me a sense of “narrowness” even though I’ve got a full set of Nonfangos on the back.Pulling onto the Westbound 118 I always like to turn in the saddle a bit, surveying the entire traffic situation before I give a last bit of acceleration into it. I found this to be nearly impossible on the Breva because of the nature of the seat, and the wide handlebars, too, create a different leverage value when you take a hand off and shift your weight. Conversely, I found that I actually didn’t need to conduct this semi-violent maneuver. The mirrors are so well placed, their field of vision so clear and vibration-free, I only needed a good head turn. Our Blessed Mother of Torque did the rest and I was off into traffic.
I don’t know where California drivers get a bad rap. For the most part they are more courteous to motorcyclists than those I’ve encountered in other states, and in general they are pretty mellow, using signals and not making sudden moves. This may be partly because only the survivors are left, and partly because of herd mentality keeping everyone in check. I have few problems with drivers and find most of their actions, with some serious exceptions, to be predictable and easy to judge. Today was no different. I merged onto the freeway and moved into the commuter lane as space opened up.
Once over Santa Susanna Pass the road has some nice big sweepers. If the traffic is light as it was this morning, you can take it a pretty good clip and get a nice lean on. The Breva responds instantly to inputs, at first I was pushing it too hard and turning too deep into the turn. I think part of it is because I’m used to a skinnier set of tires and get a quicker turn-in than I might on the Breva’s bigger set. The bars also give you a LOT more leverage than I’m used to. Once compensated for, the next few turns became downright delightful.
As I continued my cruise through the flat and more congested bits of Simi Valley, I noted the ease of higher-speed lane splitting. The Brevas insanely wonderful balance and whoomph of tourque when you twist the wrist allows you to zoom between cars and slower traffic with confidence and ease, which translates to safety. I’m very sensitive to closing speeds and speed differences in heavy traffic, and the Guzzi allows me to control this in an extremely safe and delicate manner.
The “zoomiest” part of the route is when the 118 turns south and becomes the 23 for a short stretch before merging into the 101 in Thousand Oaks. As traffic opened up I decided to see what this higher speed, hilly straight stretch was like. The motor just pulled me up near triple-digits so fast I couldn’t help but smile. Slope provided no difference in the higher gears. The tiny but unbelievably effective wind deflector did it’s job perfectly and provided little buffeting with just enough feedback to let you know you weren’t on a fully-faired tourer. This is exactly what I like. Man, put bags on this puppy and it will is one admirable get-out-of-town rig.
Once on the 118 the traffic backed up a bit, and I rode a distance with some other riders. I felt like I was being “checked out”, since nothing really looks like a Guzzi. It’s not all “blingtastic”; you have to give it a few hard looks to really know what it is, especially if you’re not aware of the engine layout.
I actually wouldn’t mind a more Ducati-esque MOTO GUZZI across the tank sides instead of the cloisonne badges. I’m proud of the marque and think that it’s important for others to see it being ridden. I think the biggest problem for sales on Guzzi in the US is the fact that not everyone knows about them and sees them on an infrequent basis. Those that have heard of Guzzi and may know about the bikes don’t know “why they should choose one” over another brand. It’s just simple to me. You choose the Guzzi for your own ride because you want a unique quality to it; something grown up, something with heritage, and finally a bike with a great community attached to it.
I stop almost every day at the Starbucks in Ventura, off Seaward Ave. The group there got a huge kick out of the Breva, and some of the guys that ride threw a leg over as I told them why I liked it more than the ST2.
Ducati has this name and mystique attached to it, and the Guzzi automatically draws comparisons. I’ve never ridden the big Monster, but I would compare it with this bike. I would choose this bike for the better wind protection and, knowing the Duc’s engine characteristics, better rideability in day-to-day conditions. The Duc is going to be ultimately faster and probably quicker in the tight stuff, but the Breva would keep up with any group just fine. A few thousand miles on the Breva would show a significant comfort bonus as well.
After my coffee, I proceeded the last 25 miles up the 101, along the coast. The salt air is just delicious and sometimes I can’t believe that this is my commute. I have friends that take a day off work to ride this route! Still, the ride isn’t without it’s flaws. The constant movement of California’s Crust combined with the bombardment of the salt air can make the surface of this road comparable to a New York Street. There’s pot holes in a lot of places, patches galore, some pretty alarming humps, and worse for bikers, some big channels between the concrete that run parallel with the traffic. I’ve gotten caught in a couple of these at certain points, and they can really make you tighten up in the nether regions.
The Breva handles this pavement beautifully, especially after I took some time to tweak the suspension. With some time and the owner’s manual I would be able to dial this bike in for my cruise beautifully. The comfortable saddle, wide bars and upright riding position combine to make this a great go to work bike that can go away on weekends, and the big gas tank capacity means you’re not filling up twice a day.
I couldn’t wait to get on the road home. Although uneventful, I took the freeway route that is more conservative and predictable. It’s more important to spend time with a bike and play it safe until you can really understand how it reacts with your inputs and skill level. I’ve never been on a track with a bike (although quite a few behind the wheel of a car), and I’m still “new” in my own opinion, even though I should get 30K miles in by the end of the year.
I hope that those of you that are considering the Breva or another Guzzi will find my input about this wonderful bike helpful. I’ve become more and more comfortable with the Breva now that I’ve put just under 500 miles on it. Were I the guy that had ridden it around the block, signed the papers and rode it away, I think I would be happy with my choice. I’m not completely gobsmacked with it yet. There’s things that I would change if it were my personal mount, but for a group of engineers to design a bike that would appeal to a large range of persons, conditions and climates, Moto Guzzi, with it’s limited resources, has done an incredibly admirable job.
Tomorrow I plan to get a little deeper into what the little details of a ride are like. What does the shift feel like? How binary or progressive are the brakes? What are the ergonomics like? How about road feel? Clutch?